Maybe end-of-the-year lists (especially the dreaded listicle) were around before this decade, but it is during the Naughties that I began my love-hate relationships with them. On the one hand, I love parsimony and groups of things. On the other hand, I hate oversimplification and anything that smacks of lobbying for cool points. [That makes this post a digest, and not a list.] (And if you’re interested, an exhaustive Noughtie list can be found on Kottke. On that list, I’d particularly recommend the CBC series, “20 pieces of music that changed the world.” This is as good as a primer in music history…and isn’t a year end list.)
End of the year/decade lists typically suffer from the crippling limitations imposed by the individual or institutional limitations of their author/host.
For example, end of the year lists reflect the systems of preferential advancement that promote white, American, males over others. Here’s a “best music books of the decade” that should undergo serious revision at the hands of yours truly, except that my hands are busy doing what white people do best which is ignoring the critical, social importance of non-white/non-American music in favor of writing another love letter to people who write about punk/alternative rock. (Important exception to my sarcastic critique: Jessica Hopper’s book. It deserves to be there.)
Lists also confront the difference between commercial and critical success. If you want a list of the “Top 20 books of the decade” you’d better not follow that link…that is, unless you think the “top 20” are defined by sales. You’ll find best sellers dominate the list, to the near exclusion of well-written novels. (Although they throw you the bone of the “Kite book” and Oscar Wao, last year’s Pulitzer winner.)
Finally, there’s an isomorphic pressure on end-of-the-year/decade list makers, such that they tend to have only minor variations from a formula. This year’s formula? “This decade sucked.” To wit, see Worst Decade Ever?, A Decade So Bad, It Didn’t Even Have a Name And No One Even Knows Its Ending, & 10 Worst Things About the Worst Decade Ever.
I understand the need to thematize the year/decade (although I’m not the person I know who does this the most, and most self-consciously), and so I’ll throw out my vote: I think this is the decade in modern history in which we became the most confused about the difference between needs and wants. I am not going to give you any evidence for this claim, even if you want me to.
In closing, I’m going to throw it to Rob Walker and his Naughtie theory:
Just the other night I was watching Anderson Cooper’s variety show on CNN, and right before a commercial break, Mr. Cooper showed about seven seconds of wobbling and grainy footage of a burning truck speeding down a highway. “A burning truck on a highway,” he said (or words to that effect). He looked, and sounded, very concerned. “We’ll tell how it happened, and where, right after this.”Upon reflection I think this is the most significant moment of the past 10 years. That is because it is an event that embodies so many 21st-century events: Something is happening, somewhere, and it has no particular effect on you whatsoever. The latest details in a moment.
I do not suggest that nothing happened in the past ten years. Things happened; significant ones, good and bad. But much of what happened was not noteworthy for having happened, it was noteworthy for having been noted, despite not being particularly noteworthy. We know the space in which news can be noted is now infinite; we know the noting of news has been “democratized.” But the pace of news worth noting has not kept up.